Letters To The Editor
June 23, 2010 - MidWeek
Jones wrong on Ka’iulani
As the executive producer of the film Princess Kaiulani, I wanted to respond to Bob Jones’June 2 column, in which he called the film “a dead duck and should have gone straight to incineration rather than to theaters ... a first-class stinker.”
Unlike a documentary or a news report, an artistic film like Princess Kaiulani is intended to be more like a painting than a photograph, to appeal more to one’s heart than to one’s head. The imagery and metaphors portrayed by its filmmakers are inherently subjective, as are perceptions and interpretations of those who view it. Its role is more to raise questions, in an aesthetically beautiful way, than to provide detailed factual answers of a documentary or news report. Princess Kaiulani’s filmmakers are no less aware of the fictionalized artistic metaphors in the film than those of us who drive by the statue of Saint Damien in front of the State Capitol every day and know that he did not really look like that. In fact, the film’s producers also have produced a more factually based documentary about Princess Ka’iulani’s life, which may be included as part of the film’s DVD set.
Jones complains, “Once, her father even says ‘Kealani’ or ‘Keulani’ and script overseers missed that.” It was actually the character of Lorrin Thurston who mispronounced Ka’iulani’s name in the film. How is Jones so sure that this is not an artistic metaphor for the insensitivity and ignorance of Thurston, or even her Scottish father, who could not even get her name right? For anyone who thinks that this is a heavy-handed exaggeration, consider that for more than a century the vast majority of Hawaii’s residents have continued to mispronounce Ka’iulani’s name.
Jones may be correct that, as a matter of history, the “U.S. Marines didn’t invade Iolani Palace.” But they did not do so in the film, either.
Jones is correct that the “reason for the arrest of Queen Lili’uokalani by the usurpers was much more complicated than just about her stubborn-ness.“According to Jones, “She had proposed executing anti-royalists.” But history and the film are even more complicated than Jones’ account. As the film highlights, she also tried to reinstate a Hawaiian constitution that would have restored voting rights to Native Hawaiians.
Jones complains, “Ka’iulani’s love affair is made up. It’s not found anywhere in her letters or those of her father, Archibald Cleghorn.” According to the film’s writer and directorMarc Forby, documentation of Ka’iulani’s relationship with Clive Davies can be found in the State Archives, and when Clive Davies died, a newspaper clipping announcing his engagement to Princess Ka’iulani was found with his papers.
According to Jones, “Ka’iulani wasn’t sent to England because of any threat to her life. Her family thought she should have a British education and she did. Simple as that.” Well, perhaps history was not that simple. Perhaps it was both.
Some have criticized the film for the superficiality of the Clive Davies love story and what Jones called “lots of kissing.” But perhaps this superficiality metaphorically unveils the frustration and hurt many Hawaiians have felt from what they perceive as the superficial, callous indifference that haole businessmen showed toward their deeply loved culture and nation, and how sometimes, these guys “just don’t get it.”
Princess Kaiulani is not your “typical” Hollywood love story. The boy does not get the girl.
The tears I have seen in so many theatres across the U.S. have not been for Ka’iulani’s lost love of Clive Davies. In fact, some audiences have cheered when she leaves him.
The tears have been from Ka’iulani’s much more profound loss of her nation, and for many in the audience, a nation and profound loss
with which they empathize and mourn as their own.
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